Thursday 18 September 1662

At the office all the morning, and at noon Sir G. Carteret, Mr. Coventry, and I by invitation to dinner to Sheriff Maynell’s, the great money-man; he, Alderman Backwell, and much noble and brave company, with the privilege of their rare discourse, which is great content to me above all other things in the world. And after a great dinner and much discourse, we arose and took leave, and home to the business of my office, where I thank God I take delight, and in the evening to my lodging and to bed.

Among other discourse, speaking concerning the great charity used in Catholic countrys, Mr. Ashburnham did tell us, that this last year, there being great want of corn in Paris, and so a collection made for the poor, there was two pearls brought in, nobody knew from whom (till the Queen, seeing them, knew whose they were, but did not discover it), which were sold for 200,000 crownes.

21 Annotations

First Reading

Australian Susan  •  Link

Sorry, Jeannine, there's no hangover!

Terry F  •  Link

Re the two pearls of great price:
L&M note: "The story has not been traced elsewhere. For the famine see [April 9]."

Jeannine  •  Link

Well our Sam can hold his wine! After yesterday his head should have weighed in at about 50 pounds!

Jeannine  •  Link

"till the Queen, seeing them, knew whose they were, but did not discover it"

I am assuming that this was the Queen to Louis XIV, Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, who knew whose pearls these were? Perhaps this story is recorded somewhere in the history of France or some Catholic writings of the time. The whole concept of "charity" for the poor is very interesting. Questions that pop to mind--were acts of charity like this rare at this time? were they tied to religions(Catholic vs. other religions), did they vary from country to country?
On a slightly similar subject, the whole concept of the Catholic religion having the convents provided a refuge for young girls who could not be provided for in other avenues of life, and in a way, could be considered a form of charity. I remember reading (I think Antonia Fraser's "Weaker Vessel") about the lack of any similar avenue for poor girls in England at this time as it was a non-Catholic country and the Protestant religion had nothing similar to the convents. I also recall that things like orphanages, etc. were not established in England during this time either.

So, if "charity" existed in Charles II's world, what were the established ways to raise funds? what functions would the funds provide for --the poor, children, etc.-- or to add a little sarcasm here--perhaps the poor King himself!

Terry F  •  Link

"I have 30l. to pay to the cavaliers" was among Sam’s laments two eves ago.

A surcharge on the incomes of present office-holders were distributed to “indigent officers who had served in the King's forces” (L&M).

Jeannine, I don’t know if it fits what you mean by “charity” — Charity was always a Christan virtue, though practices and arrangements for it varied (no simple answer to cover all Catholics or all Protestants). Perhaps Australian Susan can say something on this score.

Interestingly in countries where shari’ah is the law, e.g. Saudi Arabia, the obligation of *zakah* on assets which redistributes wealth.

Australian Susan  •  Link

The Elizabethan Poor Law Act of 1601 put the responsibility for dealing with the poor on a Parish level. Churchwardens levied the poor law rate, kept it in the Parish Chest (some churches still have them - for example see St Mary's Whitby) and doled out the money to their own indigents. You had to go back to your Parish to get money. Those from elsewhere were discouraged from trying to claim from an alien Parish by such niceties as whipping and branding (branding was a form of card index or database system - it let people know who you were). The 1601 Act remained the basis for poor law relief until 1834. Before 1601, there were a series of increasingly vindictive (there's no other word for it) acts throughout the 16th century trying to control the poor, the vagabonds, the derelicts, the destitute: a crisis occurred amongst this sub-group in society with the dissolution of the monastries in the 1530's with no State replacement for the support given to the poor by these institutions - until the 1601 Act. Many had no-one to turn to except public begging and the reaction of society was severer restrictions and punishments as the middle classes perceived themselves to be threatened by what they saw as "hordes" or "swarms"of "sturdy"(i.e. non-deserving) beggars. Local law enforcement was inadequate (as satirised by Shakespeare in Much Ado). Supporting the poor is a universal Christian virtue, but it took England about 70 years to sort out a State replacement for the voluntary system provided by the Catholic institutions such as monastries. This is a brief summary - there is a lot more to it really, such as the fate of nuns after the 1530's and the changing attitudes towards "the poor" during this period.

Shawn Laasch  •  Link

It appears that the 1662 Poor Relief act (… ) was passed by Parliment in May, 1662. Better known as the Settlement Act, it "has been described as possibly one of the worst laws ever passed by a British Parliament." ( cite:… )

More on the relevant poor laws:…

Of special interest to many might be the "Badging of the Poor" in 1697, requiring people receiving the welfare of the time to wear their status on their sleeve.

Jesse  •  Link

"...the great charity used in Catholic countrys"

Not sure how to take this. At first I thought it was in reference to their provision of charity. But on reading again perhaps "used" meant always having one's hand out? I.e. "...this last year, there being great want of corn in Paris, and so a collection made for the poor."

Xjy  •  Link

Charity and the poor
This whole problem of vagrants, beggars etc was due to the seizure and privatization of common land and the driving of poor peasants and labourers off the land. They were forced to move to the towns, an early version of the great worldwide blight of urbanization that characterized the 20th century.
The response of the ruling and wealthy classes was vicious and often deadly, and they didn't let up. They got the land, they cheapened the labour that was left on it, and they successfully demonized and criminalized the victims. Perfect policy... :(
Let them eat pearls... right.

Mary  •  Link

Charity towards the poor.

For a system that contrasted sharply with the English, see Simon Schama's "Embarrassment of Riches", where Dutch practices of the Golden Age are outlined. A predominantly (though not wholly)Protestant conscience led to the provision of a much more enlightened system of relief.

Australian Susan  •  Link

From my reading on this, I remember that the preamble of all the Acts against vagabonds etc. from the 1530s onwards, became progressively nastier and promised harsher penalties: the powerful in society were becoming seriously worried by hwat they saw as lawless armies of "sturdy beggars", "very rogues" and so on. This was all read in the CSPD (Calendar of State papers, Domestic Series), but, alas, I cannot find these online anywhere - only lots of references to microform/fiche. So can't quote exaxtly. But if anyone is interested in this kind of thing - start with the laws: gives a really good insight.
Yes, the Poor Law Act of Charles's reign was dreadful legislation and the 1601 Act was reverted to - and the system stayed more or less the same until the reform movements of the 1830s (which also resulted in parliament being reformed, better franchise and other goodies). How a society views its poor and treats them is a sensitive barometer of the health of the system (in a holistic sense).

Australian Susan  •  Link

The provision for the poor in England in pre-Reformation times (i.e. when there were monastries etc)depended on local effort, not State legislation, but also derived from a belief that doing good works would help with your passage through purgatory (a belief system undermined by the reformation in England). There was also a belief that society was a rigid structure - people were born into their status and stayed there - this resulted in strict dress codes for different social groups - and also to a belief that if you could you helped the poor as they had been born that way by God's will and you, having more (again by God's will) had to help. During the 16th century the belief grew that you could help yourself to better yourself (many did, given the chance) and the concept of the "undeserving" poor grew: charity to all was begrudged and people were judged and examined and had to prove need. This is a rather general statement, but summarises the changes which took place in society's attitudes towards the poor between 1530 and our Diary period.

laura k  •  Link

Excellent info on this. Thanks to Australian Susan and others.

Pedro  •  Link

Following on from A.Sue...

Liza Picard (Restoration London) says...

Benefits were doled out by the parishes, and a claimant had first to satisfy the authorities that she-women more often needed help than men-belonged to that parish. One of Charles's earliest Proclamations had deplored the habit of "Rogues Vagabonds Beggars and other idle persons from all parts of the nation (resorting to) the cities of London and Westminster and the suburbs where they get their living stealing, begging and other lewd practices". They were all to be "sent to their place of birth or last abode to be kept as impotent (i.e. those who could not work would be supported) or made to labour (if they could work)" At their peril they (must) forthwith depart to their place of birth or abode.

Jeannine  •  Link

Thanks to all for the thought provoking and informative links, background, etc. Interesting that although the concept of providing some form of monetary relief for the poor did exist that the whole concept of "give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for life" doesn't seem to exist along side of it.

BradW  •  Link

Idle Hands
The Lutheran concept that idleness = sin clearly had not penetrated England in 1662. Has it since? Or is our American fascination with welfare-to-work programs more a product of the mixing of English and Teutonic mores and values in the U.S.?

Australian Susan  •  Link

I think this was in the consciousness at this time - this was part ofthe point I was making in one of my posts above - attitudes towards the poor had changed: many people considered that people were indigent because they chose to be and there were calls to not pay Poor Relief to "sturdy beggars" and others considered not worthy of assistance - and this had changed from pre-1550s days, i.e. from pre-Reformation days.
Another group which suffered were gypsies, who (along with Jews) had been allowed to re-settle in England by Cromwell. All sorts of myths about gypsies grew up, typical of a scapegoated underclass - they stole children, they could curse people, they stole, lied, cheated etc. etc. As they looked different, they were easy to target and as they were nomads, they could not be sent back to their Parish of origin. Another group which suffered were women trying to live a religious life: courts found it very difficult to cope with the concept of a woman who was not a maid (and thus under the control of a mistres, master, father or brother) or a wife (under the control of a husband). For want of any other solution, some got locked up as mad, others were whipped out of the Parish. Reference has already been made here to Antonia's Fraser's Weaker Vessel book, which is very good on this subject. Details are in Background Reading.

dirk  •  Link


An interesting sidenote: in most of the catholic countries of Western Europe one of the major sources of income for charitable organizations (usually parish based) was the excise on beer. This was seen as a form of "social recycling": drinking was a potential danger, which could lead to poverty - so having drinkers pay for the poor was the right thing to do.

GrahamT  •  Link

On the Parish:
My father (born 1917) often referred to being in receipt of unemployment benefits (i.e. on the dole) as "on the Parish", so the idea of the parish helping when you had no other source of income lasted well into the 20th century, even though the government had taken over that responsibility.

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

The French famine tale had been making the rounds. Pepys's Diary on 9 April:

At dinner Sir George showed me an account in French of the great famine, which is to the greatest extremity in some part of France at this day, which is very strange. 1

1 On the 5th of June following, Louis, notwithstanding the scarcity, gave that splendid carousal in the court before the Tuileries, from which the place has ever since taken its name.—B.…

Lord Braybrooke's note casts some doubt on the tale.

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